I just learned the word “overmorrow” for the day after tomorrow. Is there a similar word for the day before yesterday?
A NOTE: This post would have been much, much more difficult if I hadn’t just found out that the Mobile Public Library gives patrons free (!!!) online access to the Oxford English Dictionary. Free!! OED!! Sorry, Etymonline, you are OUT. Out like an unfaithful lover. Out like half a tuna-fish sandwich that someone left sitting on the counter overnight. Out like a drunk in a club trying to assault the DJ for playing “Sexy and I Know It” too many times. Out! No regrets.
(Etymonline doesn’t even list “overmorrow.” Madness.)
Why yes, there is a classy old word for “the day before yesterday”: it’s ereyesterday. There’s also a great trio of? adjectives that have gotten lost over time:
Hodiern or hodiernal – “of or taking place today”
Hesternal – “of or taking place yesterday”
and the lovely
Nudiustertian – “of or taking place the day before yesterday” (nu + dius + tertian = “now” + “day” + “third” = “today’s the third day,” e.g. “two days ago”)
These were mostly popular in the 1600s-1800s, when I can only assume that one daily heard people remarking to each other, “Yon dame has the most hodiern style, don’t you agree?” “Surely you jest sir, pelisses are soooooooo nudiustertian.”
“Fortnight” (fourteen nights) still gets used for two weeks occasionally, but you never hear “sennight” anymore, probably because “week” already does everything we need as far as describing a seven-night period.
The 1800s also had a huge pile of other commonly used “yesters,” in case you needed something more specific:
Yestermorn – “yesterday morning”
Yestereen – “yesterday evening”
Yesternoon – right, you’ve probably got the idea
Yesterweek – “last week”
Yesterage – “long ago, ages ago”
Yestertempest – “the last tempest before this one”
Sadly, we’ve dropped most of these combos, and we’ve only really added one new one: “yesterminute,” usually used by ironically detached journalists to refer to things that were popular on the internet recently, but which we as a society are now over.
There isn’t a pile of words like this for “tomorrow,” likely because no one part is clearly future-y. It’s just the regular “to” (like “go to”) and “morrow,” which means “morning.” Until pretty recently it was written as two words, to morrow, and occasionally as to morn instead. So there are a goodly number of “morrow” words about “morning” (i.e. morrow meat for “breakfast”), but not many words referring to specific times tomorrow in the same vein as yestereen. There was, however, a brief epidemic in the 1800s of using tomorrowing to refer to procrastination, and to those who procrastinate as tomorrowers.
I wrote a couple weeks ago about how rarely completely new words just show up in the language. These “yesters” are an example of a much more common way to form new words, affixation (or is it compounding in this case? Linguists, make your arguments!). We have the word “yesterday,” we take the beginning “yester,” and we toss it onto everything we can find and see what sticks. “Do you want this last banana?” “No, I ate the yesterbanana.” We do this so often we don’t always really notice it, at least not as much as we notice a fully new word.
See you in a sennight!
The Language Nerd
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Do I really need to repeat my references? I also used David Crystal’s Encyclopedia of the English Language to brush up on my affixation.
ANOTHER NOTE! Speaking of that Neologistics post, I have an update on uses and spellings of the Mardi Gras word “krewe.” Someone noted that the Crewe of Columbus eschews this spelling, but doesn’t go so far as to return to “crew.” The story is this: the group was originally formed in 1922 as the Krewe of Columbus, in keeping with Carnival best practices. This had the additional bonus of giving the group the same initials as the Knights of Columbus, the very very Catholic organization that the Krewe took its members from. When the group opened its membership to a wider group of people in 1937, they changed the spelling to Crewe to remove that same-acronym connection with the Knights, and the two groups went their separate ways. Special thanks to the Crewe members who spoke with me and pointed me to this Mobile Mask article with an explanation, and to Charles Torrey at the Museum of Mobile for his help. Thank you!